This is the fourth in what OptimistPrime once called a "robusty" series on the possible trade partners for our hometown nine. Before I go any farther I need to thank grover, who graciously helped me acquire and compile current scouting reports for this piece. Today, we focus on the Cincinnati Reds, which are run by Walt Jocketty, who in addition to working with the A's back in the day, was the man Billy Beane left holding the bag on the Mark Mulder trade during his tenure in St. Louis. The Reds haven't been in the playoffs since 1993 and while residing at 41- 40, are only three games back from the Cardinals.
The A's have been said to be looking for two prospects at high levels with tremendous upside in exchange for the best bat on the market, Matt Holliday. With a gaping hole at the top of the system at SS (Pennington and Petit might be 2 WAR players) and 3b beyond Cardenas. The strength of the A's system is in its recently graduated pitching, quality catching depth throughout the system, 1b prospects in AA or higher, and high level second base prospects. Until recently the A's center field situation is one that needed to be upgraded. However, Scott Hariston is an excellent bet to be a 3+ WAR player and Ryan Sweeney goes from a slightly over matched starter to a dynamite fourth outfielder. As I explained in the Cardinals thread, I lack faith in Travis Buck and Aaron Cunningham to be three win player, but that need is ameliorated if they can play 2 - 2.5 WAR and Hariston can play 3.5 - 4 WAR player. Furthermore, Sean Dolittle, Chris Carter, and Corey Brown could be knocking on the door for corner OF positions. With this kind of depth the A's need more quality and less quantity especially of AAA player who are blocking real prospects progress.
This is why I like the Reds system and its match with Oakland trade-able assets The Reds starting OF is Laynce Nix, who is batting out of his mind, Willy Tavares is not, and Jesus before Matt Weiters was, Jay Bruce. Bruce's home run power hasn't necessarily translated into being the supremely valuable bat that he was predicted to be, but he is young and can crank them out of the yard often. Willy Tavares has no business as anything more than a pinch runner defensive replacement in the Major Leagues. He is really a poor man's more expensive version of Rajai Davis. His stats are abysmal. Tavares is coming in at a whopping 55 OPS +, a .271 wOBA, and only league average CF defense. Nix is batting better than ever before sporting a .337 wOBA. Earlier in his career he was an outstanding defensive center fielder, but even if he is slightly below average at the position now and with substantial regression with the bat, he would still be a massive upgrade over Tavares if they would slide him to CF and bench Tavarez. In other words they desperately need Matt Holliday. They also need a short stop Paul Janish and his 48 OPS + and Alex Gonzales and his 46 OPS+. Hell thats so bad that even Orlando Cabrera would be an improvement! Who needs match.com when you have such an obvious fit?
Lets look at the how the Reds can reciprocate. The Reds have undertaken a concerted effort to draft and sign players at premium defensive positions on the left side of the infield. The Reds have been heavily involved in Latin America which mixes unpolished sky high upside prospects with their drafts that have focused on college players. The Reds have a quintet of prospects that could fit A's needs for impact players on the left side of second base. Sickles grades of these prospects before the season:
2) Todd Frazier, INF, Grade B: I like him. A nice solid hitter, maybe not a star, but should be productive. Only question is defense.
3) Chris Valaika, SS, Grade B: I like him, too. Looks like a fine hitter, even without strong plate discipline. Probably more a 2B than SS.
4) Neftali Soto, 3B, Grade B: Very impressed with his long-term potential. Could use more patience, but strikeout rate isn’t bad and he’s very young.
10) Juan Francisco, 3B, Grade C+: Enormous power potential, very young, but dismal discipline. Did reduce strikeouts last year.
A final prospect that should be considered by the A's is Zack Cozart, who was a second round pick in 2007. Cozart got an honorable mention and a C grade from Sickles last year and was the 19th best prospect according to BA. Cozart repeated low A in 2008 which for a college bat is not a good thing, but he did turn around his poor offensive performance from 2007. His decent year in 2008 looks even better with park and luck adjustments. This year he was promoted aggressively and has done well. Cozart fixed a flaw in his swing mid way through 2008, got his legs involved more and his power skyrocketed at about game 81 of his pro career and has staid. His K% is declining and his walk rate has increased this year to 11.1%. I could see him putting up a slash line of .270/.325/.430 with excellent defense at short, which is pretty valuable.
If pushed to AAA midway through this year he could be a legitimate option for starting SS in 2010. I would feel comfortable that a three way spring training race between Cozart, Petit, and Pennington would produce a league average 2.5 WAR (.318 wOBA, 5 FRAA) short stop. At the beginning of this project, He wasn't on my wish list. By the end I came to a very different conclusion. I believe that his improvement with the bat is both real and will continue. Like Reese Havens before him, I covet Zack Cozart.
Todd Frazier (Sickles B/#2 BA) is the player A's fans probably covet most (Nico and others have mentioned him several times). In a move that seriously hurt his prospect value, the Reds shifted Todd Frazier to left field this year after trials at third and at SS. The Reds have Edwin Encarnacion at the major league level under team control through 2010, along with Juan Francisco at AA Carolina with Frazier and Naftali Soto behind him at Dayton. Soto and Francisco's lack of foot speed prohibits them from playing the OF and shifting them to 1b is out of the question with Joey Votto destroying baseballs at the major league level and their best prospect Yonder Alonso possibly pushing Votto to the outfield so he can take over 1b. Therefore despite having the tools to play the best third base of any of Cincy's 3 premier third base prospects, it still could be best from a comparative advantage perspective to move Frazier to the outfield, especially if he plays the second half in AAA, because he will be major league ready at the start of 2010 if he does.
The 2009 pre-season scouting reports all thought that Frazier had the hands and arm to play 3B while he had "substandard range for SS," which is pretty harsh from BA. Frazier's fielding profile looks much the same as Cardenas whose range at short stop is limited by his speed but has the other necessary tools to play third. I expect him to be 0 to 5 FRAA. His play in left field has been good, showing off a strong arm, if in fact he needs to move permanently to the outfield.
Frazier's bat has always been his calling card never having less than a .368 wOBA. He is a baller with the bat, what can you say. This year he is on pace for just less than 60 doubles and 20 homers. At the MLB level I could see him hit 25 jacks and 35 doubles. Frazier also has the ability to walk never drawing walks in less than 8% of his plate appearances. His strikeouts aren't even a concern peaking at 25% but are down to 12.3% this year. When I think of what Frazier is capable of I think about Troy Tulowitzki's 2007 season .291/.359/.479, .361 wOBA, 33 doubles, 24 homers. Frazier's ceilling looks something like .360 wOBA, which is 16 BRAA, in addition to +5 RAA fielding at third base, and 2.5 runs for position and 20 for replacement if he gets 600 PA. That my friends is an All Star 4.3 WAR player. Now, granted he isn't likely to hit all of those numbers, but a more realistic outlook is still rosey. A .345 wOBA with league average defense is He is the best chip that the Reds have.
There are several players who would make the secondary piece in a package headlined by Cozart/Frazier. Juan Francisco is the second of the strong third third base prospects that the Reds have. He is the prospect that I least want under consideration. His defense is brutal and is made worse due to mental lapses, indicating that he probably should be moved off of third base. He strikes out 20% + of the time and walks less than 4%. While he isn't going to be able to sustain the 30% K rate which he had in 2007% the 20% K numbers he is currently putting up aren't completely atrocious (he cut his strikeouts by half between May and June, but they do mean Francisco has to hit .270 to have an OBP of .300. He is likely to have an IsoP around .200 - .250 regularly in the big leagues and a ceiling of hitting 25-30 HRs with his power projection. However, if you couple that with a likely .240-.250 batting average in the major leagues, Francisco is projected to put up a slash line of .245/.270/470, which just is not that valuable for a player who can't field particularly well.
Granted he could improve his walk numbers and contact ability, as he cut down his strikeouts about 10% over two years, and if he hits 270 with a .250 ISOP and a .040 isolated walk rate then he is a valuable player with a .270/.310/.520 at third. At 22, I don't see him improving his plate discipline to the point that he can maintain his batting average or OBP at acceptable levels to be a starting third baseman. His glove is too bad to become a Pedro Feliz type player, whose OBP deficiencies were balance out by his power and glove. Additionally, he has the wart of being on the 40 man roster already and being at AA.
Neftali Soto is a similar player to Juan Francisco in that he doesn't walk very often, the difference is that he makes much more contact, with only a 16 or so percent K rate to go with his 4% walks. He isn't really that young for A+ at 20, but deserves a bonus point for being in the FSL a tough league to hit in. His numbers are down this year, and if he put up last years numbers he wouldn't be touchable. Much of Soto's poor numbers can be attributed to his horrible April. Soto hit out of his mind in May but has returned to earth in June/July.
Soto possesses 60-65 power on the 20-80 scout scale. Soto shows excellent hand/eye co-ordination but has a rather long swing. Soto has below-average to poor command of the strike zone and despite swinging often at non-strikes he still makes hard contact. Due to his contact ability, Grover points out that it is dangerous to try using his luck-neutral stats, as he swings at bad pitches but instead of striking out he makes contact, creating a false positive on his luck-neutral line. His defense is a little rough. Soto couples a cannon for an arm with below-average speed and athleticism leaving him with suspect range at 3B. I feel like he can stay there with slightly below average defense, maybe a -5 FRAA. It would end up requiring a .350 wOBA over 600 PA to make him a three win player or a .343 wOBA to be a league average starter at 2.5 WAR.I think that a good comp for Soto is Jorge Cantu who at times can be a good player.
Chris Valaika (Sickles B/#4 BA) missed a chunk of time this year at AAA, due to losing a fight with a Gatorade cooler and breaking his hand. In addition to having a difficult name to pronounce, Valaika is considered to have below-average range at SS (to go with good hands and a strong arm) and both BA and Sickels suggest a future move to 2B. "Valaika continues to survive at SS." - BA. Total Zone doesn't hate him, but I would expect him to be a -5 FRAA player in the big leagues. Whether with the sinker ball duo of Cahill and Mazzaro you want to have a below average defensive short stop is certainly a consideration, as he may get more chances than average, hurting the team more than you would initially expect.
In regards to his bat scouting reports indicate a tendency to chase pitches out of the zone but his strong contact skills prevents him from striking out excessively and allows him to make hard contact. In the past he has had the ability to take a walk, showing a 7% BB/PA last year, but that has collapsed to 4% in 2009, though I'm not overly worried that it will regress past 5% for full seasons. Valaika had a break out year last year putting up a .360 wOBA in a half season at AA after putting up a .442 wOBA repeating high A ball for the first half. While, I don't expect him to put up those kinds of numbers in the majors by any means, but I think he can be a .325 wOBA kind of player, improving to league average with time with a slash line like 280/320/420.
When coupled with -5 FRAA, a .325 wOBA would make a 2 WAR player. He has some upside in his power and batting average but I wouldn't expect him to be a three win player, but if he starts next year in the bigs as the A's starting SS he probably won't embarrass himself. He most likely he would provide a third option to Moneypenny and Petit in a SS battle where you try three players with the upside of averagishness in 2010 and hope to find one that can hold their own. Much in the same way as Soto, he isn't the centerpiece of a trade but if you don't get Cozart as the centerpiece, Cozart's emergence probably makes Valaika expendable.
Grover is high on OF Chris Heisey (C/#22) who was the only player who made both BA's minor league All-Stars and Most Surprising teams. In grover's words is a "Excellent defensive OF with a strong enough arm for RF. Very good speed and strong on-base skills. Plays with a chip on his shoulder 'cause no D-1 school offered him a scholarship. Might be an over-achiever. Works hard." Other prospects that I like include: Travis Wood of the 1.19 ERA in AA has an average fastball but a dynamite change. Zach Stewart who has closer stuff but is currently succeeding in AAA's starting rotation.
Between the time I started and this posting Bruce broke his wrist which means that a trade for Holliday is either more likely (now they really need him) or less likely (they'll decide to punt). According to what I've read they are hoping to get him back in early September (basically a 6 week recovery). Hope for a big run before the deadline, because either with or without Bruce I can see Jocketty making a move with some of their left side depth if they get within 2 games or so. They have plenty of tradable assets (Harang, Arroyo, Edwin Encarnacion, even Brandon Phillips or Alonso) if they decide that they need a piece to go for it next year even if they make a trade with the A's for Holliday now.
Therefore, I am proposing a Frasier and Valaika package or Cozart and Soto in exchange for Matt Holliday and Orlando Cabrera. I like Frasier a lot but I like Soto better than Valaika, therefore I would have ordered the packages the other way before the weekend. The Jack Hannahan trade changes things a bit. The A's no longer have a sure fire 2 WAR player at 3b and Cardenas should be kept down for at least month till the A's gain the extra year of club control and he is really ready for the Show. While I am not a Pennington fan, and I do like Petit relative to his hype, in my eyes the A's SS options are much better than our options of "I Don't Know" at third. Additionally, Valaika can make an impact next year as a possibility to start at short. While Soto has more potential than Valaika he's probably at least a year and a half away from the show.